Start With the Customer and Work Backwards

Murali Bala

Engineering Manager at Amazon



In 2012, I co-founded a startup with a few of my friends. The startup, a Guest Relationship Management (GRM) tool, was used by service-based businesses like restaurants to improve retention marketing and operational proficiency, that enabled restaurants to:

  • Collect customer feedback at the end of their meal;
  • Reach out to their customers without any friction;
  • Create and manage automated email campaigns and monitor them with just a few clicks.

One of the main concerns, when we were building out the survey, was around the time it took to fill -- the longer it would take, the less likely the customer is going to engage with it. The other concern was coming out with an optimized set of questions that incorporated all the critical metrics that rated ambiance, servers, food, pricing, etc., for the feedback template.

Actions taken

"In an over digitalized world, it is so easy and comforting to hide behind digital modes of communication and draw irrelevant conclusions out of metrics. Talk to clients as much as possible. Give them power to offer you honest feedback anytime." (Anonymous)

We were constantly engaged with our customers (restaurants) on their needs and we’re trying to understand their goals and pain-points. What was causing them grief? What did they need to know to engage more effectively with their customers? How to cut down on the cost of marketing?

Based on the feedback from the restaurant, we tailored and optimized the length of the survey to be just the right-size -- long enough to collect the most meaningful metrics for the restaurant, but at the same time short enough that customers will not turn it down. Our goal was that a customer should be able to fill the survey between the time they gave the credit card for charging and the server bringing the receipt back. It was a huge success. Eighty percent of the customers filled out the survey and that too with a smile.

Lessons learned

  • Obsess over your customers. The biggest learning here is to build tools and applications embracing the customer-first mindset and working backward. This will always have the best possible outcome. Until you don’t understand the deeper meaning the service has for a customer, you won’t be able to build the solution that really fits their needs.
  • Always do customer research and listen up to what they have to say and build customer-centric, easy-to-use solutions that solve the customers’ problems. And most importantly, look beyond what customers believe they see, look at their hidden needs, and deeper goals.

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Murali Bala

Engineering Manager at Amazon

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